Aaron Brethorst

Round peg in a square hole, rabid generalist.

A Poorly Debugged Set of Device Drivers

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Proving once again that black is the new pink is the new bell bottoms, Don Dodge today links Om Malik, who states that:

The browser is the new OS. Yes, we’ve heard this before, and if you’re quietly groaning right about now, I can understand why…It’s been 10 years since a barefoot Marc Andreessen graced the cover of Time magazine and trumpeted how the browser would make the operating system irrelevant.

Groan, indeed. Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, once famously stated that Windows was nothing but a set of poorly debugged device drivers, which the web would soon make obsolete. It didn’t happen ten years ago, and I’m not convinced it’s going to happen now, either. That said, the web is of critical importance. There’s absolutely no question about that. But, I don’t expect that we’ll see online applications fully replace desktops or laptops any time soon, no matter what Om thinks.

There are a lot of applications that make far more sense in a browser than in a piece of rich client software (Netflix comes to mind immediately), but too many things that we do today are absolutely dependent upon offline functionality. What happens when I’m on an airplane? Am I going to connect my thin client palmtop device to Boeing’s Connexion service? Probably not, since the service is dead. Even if it was still around, would I pay $30 to hack on a Word document? Doubt it. Om tries to explain this scenario away with talk of a new ‘offline mode’ debuting in the next wave of browsers, but never links to any proof of this feature’s existence in Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer, or explains exactly how it might work.

Even if this offline scenario worked today (or in 2007), would I really want to create a PowerPoint presentation on a screen measuring 320x240px? Hell no. I believe that the Web is a fantastic platform for developing many types of rich applications, but it cannot and will not replace all rich client application scenarios. Windows is, and will continue to be, more than ‘a set of poorly debugged device drivers’ for many years to come.